Please give a warm Mysteristas welcome to B.J. Craige, author of the Witherston Murder Mysteries!
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
The big novels of Barbara Kingsolver—The Poisonwood Diary, Prodigal Summer, and The Lacuna—as well as her essays collected in Small Wonder influenced me with respect to my style of my fiction. The mysteries of Louise Penny influenced me with respect to the setting of my mysteries.
However, most powerfully, the ideas of ecologist Eugene Odum influenced me with respect to my vision of the world as an interconnected system. I wrote a biography of the scientist (and friend) titled Eugene Odum: Ecosystem Ecologist and Environmentalist (2001), and in the process I learned to think about nature and culture as a planetary whole whose parts are interdependent and interrelated in both time and space.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Having spent four decades as a professor at the University of Georgia, I have grown to love the mountains of north Georgia and western North Carolina, where Cherokees lived for a thousand years. So I set my mysteries in a fictional small town twenty miles north of Dahlonega, site of the 1828 Georgia Gold Rush. Here I could tell tales in which the past inhabits the present. In the course of writing the three novels I created a fictional genealogy of the Withers family that began in 1828 when Hearty Withers discovered gold and got rich. With each novel I learned more Georgia history.
What themes to you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The over-arching theme of all my fiction is this: The past inhabits the present.
Tell us about your main character.
Although the detective in my Witherston Murder Mysteries is Mev Arrollo, the characters whom I have developed most are her identical twin sons, Jaime and Jorge. Jaime and Jorge, who are fourteen years old in Downstream and sixteen in Dam Witherston, help solve the mysteries with the aid of their eccentric great aunt Lottie, the local online newspaper, the web, and the maps, wills, deeds, journals, and letters they track down. Jaime is serious; Jorge is funny. Both are smart. Many animals appear in the mysteries as well: an African Grey parrot named Doolittle, dogs named Mighty, Sequoyah, Gandhi, and Coco Chanel, goats named Grass and Weed, a donkey named Sassyass, a pig named Betty, a cat named Barack, and chickens named Moonshine, Sunshine, Henny Penny, Mother Hen, Feather Jean, and Feather Jo.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I would invite Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Earl Stanley Gardner, Stieg Larsson, and Louise Penny.
What’s next for you?
I have just completed a thriller titled Aldo, which Black Opal Books will publish in 2018. In it “Aldo” kidnaps the president of a prestigious university and demands, as ransom, that the university fire a scientist conducting germline gene therapy (genetic therapy that affects the patient’s descendants). The events in the story raise questions about academic freedom and the pressure upon universities to make big donors happy.
Dr. Betty Jean Craige is University Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. She has lived in Athens, Georgia, since 1973. Betty Jean is a teacher, scholar, translator, humorist, and writer. Her first non-academic book was Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot (2010). After retiring in 2011, she published a column about animal behavior in the local paper titled “Cosmo Talks” and began writing fiction. Her Witherston Murder Mystery series, set in north Georgia, includes Downstream (2014), Fairfield’s Auction (2016), and Dam Witherston (2017). http://www.bettyjeancraige.com/